Tourists Guide to Barnstaple, North Devon

Barnstaple has always been the main town in the North Devon region and is the base for My Favourite Cottages in Barnstaple. Historically Barnstaple has been a major port, primarily trading in wool from the farms of Exmoor across the Atlantic Ocean to the New World of America.Today Barnstaple is a thriving tourist destination, sinse the opeing of the North Devon Link Road in 1989 Barnstaple became to gateway town to the glorious North Devon beaches at Saunton Sands and all along the cost to Woolacombe. The opening of the new road meant tourism really took-off and the region now boasts some of the best holiday cottages in the UK which provide ideal places to stay with family and pets.

What Makes Barnstaple Special:

  • Fantastic history and heritage with a great museum to visit in the heart of the town.
  • Located at the head of the two major rivers, the Taw and the Torridge and easy to access if you fancy a day away from the beaches.
  • Ideal for for biking, the Tarka Trail runs through Barnstaple to either Bideford or Braunton, there is bike hire available at the railway station.
  • Great for retail therapy, the High Street has many well-known national chains and independent shops, as well as an indoor shopping centre with plenty of parking.
  • Many restaurants, coffee shops and independent food shops, the town has a great reputation for food.
  • Butchers Row with butchers, fishmongers and speciality shops is worth a visit.
  • Numerous  attractions to keep the kids entertained, there is a cinema, theatre, leisure centre and the Tarka tennis centre with 6 indoor courts.
  • Regular festivals including the Green Man Festival in Pilton and the town carnival.
  • Centrally located, ideal as a base for the beaches, walks and Exmoor.
  • Rock Park is a beautiful park by the river to explore on a sunny day with a large play area and a skate park.


What Can We Do in Barnstaple?

  • Regular productions at the Barnstaple Theatre with visiting companies, bands and comedians.
  • Broomhill Sculpture Garden just outside Barnstaple is a must for art lovers.
  • Regular food and craft markets at the Pannier Market that is easily accessed from the High Street.
  • Plenty of parking at several large car parks makes shopping in the town centre easy with a host of chains and independent shops.
  • Lots of restaurants, you can enjoy tastes from around the world,Barnstaple has a fantastic variety of places to eat that offer great value for money.
  • Ten pin bowling and ice skating.
  • Numerous supermarkets including Tesco, Sainsbury, Asda, Co Op and Lidl.
  • Walk along the on the Tarka Trail which runs on both banks of the River Taw, to Braunton or Instow and Torrington.

Where Can We Stay in Barnstaple:

  • Numerous  quality hotels, the Park Hotel specifically has undergone a major refurb and is in a lovely setting opposite Rock Park.
  • Quality holiday cottages in Barnstaple managed by My Favourites Cottages.
  • Nearby caravan and camp sites including Rowden Barton, Tarka Holiday Park and Whitemoor Farm.
  • Large hotels including the Barnstaple Hotel, the Imperial, Royal and Fortescue, Travel Lodge and Premier Inn.
  • Other independent holiday cottages.

All about Barnstaple:

Barnstaple is the economic hub of North Devon and has been for centuries. The town is by far the largest populated conurbation for many miles and has grown significantly over the last 30 years with significant developments ongoing. The town is the social hub for the area with the main college based at the top of the hill overlooking the town. The town has a great reputation for nightlife with several bars and clubs that stay open until the early hours and is also a thriving sports town with a well-supported rugby union team, football club and the Tarka Tennis Centre is a superb facility with 6 indoor courts.

Barnstaple is the regional shopping centre, the main town High Street still thrives although there has been a significant development of several out of town shopping areas, notably in Roundswell around Sainsbury’s and on the bank of the river the new development at Anchorwood with several leading National retailers like Asda and Next. 

If you have had enough of the beaches and want some retail therapy, this is your top location. Barnstaple also has a great reputation for food, especially amongst local  artisan producers with several independent shops selling local produce. There is plenty to explore, the deep history of the country’s oldest borough is evident in a number of character buildings especially around the town centre near the museum and Litchdon Street.

If you need a bit of space and fresh air, there are plenty of walks especially along the banks of the River Taw and there is a lot of wildlife to view, especially birds. Along the south side of the river heading inland, take a walk around Rock Park, a great playground for the kids and a small café is open during the summer months. There is also a skate and roller park on the opposite side and plenty of space to walk your dog.


Barnstaple History:

Barnstaple has a fantastic history, the oldest borough in England that dates back as far as 900ad. The town evolved as a trading port with significant wealth generated from the export of wool from as early as the 14th century. The town was unusual in that the merchants of the period claimed that the town was a ‘free borough’, an interesting term associated with a number of towns that traded in wool during the period. The ‘free borough’ allowed the merchants of Barnstaple far more autonomy than other towns where the local lords effectively controlled the economy and therefore the growth and prosperity. The free merchants of Barnstaple where more dynamic in their trading and built up extensive routes worldwide through the centuries that allowed the town to prosper and grow quite rich in comparison with other towns.

The growth in trade also changed the town itself, wool became less important and the river silted up so that it was impractical to use the town as a port, especially as nearby Bideford offered much better shipping channels. The town remained the prominent trading and commercial centre with the railway network converging on the town from several lines in the area.

Barnstaple did suffer a relative period of depression in the 1970’s as did many towns. The majority of the railway network was closed and without a major manufacturing or economic base and with a very poor road network compared to the rest of the country.

The major change for the town was the opening of the North Devon Link Road in 1989 that transformed road links between the whole area and the rest of the country. Prior to the road opening, tourists visiting the area had to undertake arduous journeys along twisty roads that were slow and getting increasingly busy. For example, the majority of travellers from the north would access North Devon via Exmoor and during school holidays, this was an arduous journey.

The opening of the link road allowed tourism to once expand again and made short term trips to the area far more feasible and opened up the attractions to a wider audience. The main attraction being the beaches and water sports such as surfing suddenly became far more accessible and changed the structure and face of tourism as we see it today!


How Do You Get to Barnstaple?

Getting to Barnstaple is really easy and with the advent of the new bridge across the Taw, getting around Barnstaple is a whole lot easier and congestion has eased significantly in recent years.

The majority of travellers will arrive from on the A361 North Devon Link road accessed from Junction 27 on the M5. Alternative and less common routes include the A39 from Bideford and Cornwall, the A361 from the Braunton direction and the A39 from Exmoor, Lynton and Blackmoor Gate. The majority of traffic now avoids the town centre and uses the link road and new bridge to access destination roads.

The town centre is clearly signposted from all directions, only use town centre routes though if that is your destination, it will not be a faster route than the A361 even if your Sat Nav is telling you so. There are several car parks in the town centre, the Cattle Market car park by the library being the most central. Green Lanes car park is also popular and covered with easy access to the shopping centre. There is also plenty of parking at the Leisure Centre which is cheaper for long stay but includes a walk over the bridge into the centre of town. The vast majority of car parks charge the same price.